Harvesting the Creative and Emotional Power of All Your People

Employee empowerment is a term used to express the ways in which non-managerial staff can make autonomous decisions without consulting a boss/manager. These self-willed decisions can be small or large depending upon the degree of power with which the company wishes to invest employees. Employee empowerment can begin with training and converting a whole company to an empowerment model. Conversely it may merely mean giving employees the ability to make some decisions on their own.

There are employee empowerment workshops, books and articles. There is even a magazine called Empowerment that can help a company converting to employee driven decision-making. The thinking behind employee empowerment is that it gives power to the individual and thus makes for happier employees. By offering employees choice and participation on a more responsible level, the employees are more invested in their company, and view themselves as a representative of such.

For employee empowerment to work successfully, the management team must be truly committed to allowing employees to make decisions. They may wish to define the scope of decisions made. Building decision-making teams is often one of the models used in employee empowerment, because it allows for managers and workers to contribute ideas toward directing the company.

Autocratic managers, who are micromanagers, tend not to be able to utilize employee empowerment. These types of managers tend to oversee all aspects of others’ work, and usually will not give up control. A manager dedicated to employee empowerment must be willing to give up control of some aspects of work production.

When employees feel as though they have choice and can make direct decisions, this does often lead to a greater feeling of self-worth. In a model where power is closely tied to sense of self, having some power is a valuable thing. An employee who does not feel constantly watched and criticized is more likely to consider work as a positive environment, rather than a negative one.

One easy way to begin employee empowerment in the workplace is to install a suggestion box, where workers can make suggestions without fear of punishment or retribution. However, simply placing a suggestion box somewhere is only the first step. Managers must then be willing to read and consider suggestions. They might provide a forum where questions or suggestions receive a response, like a weekly or monthly newsletter. In addition, managers can hold a once monthly meeting open to employees where all suggestions are addressed.

At least some suggestions have to be approved in order for employees to feel that they are having some impact on their company. Failure to approve or implement any suggestions reinforces that all the power belongs to the managers and not the workers. Employee empowerment of any form can only work when managers are willing to be open to new ideas and strategies. If no such willingness exists, employee empowerment is likely to be non-existent.

People Power
People as your most important asset. Your technologies, products and structures can be copied by competitors. No one, however, can match your highly charged, motivated people who care. People are your firm's repository of knowledge and they are central to your company's competitive advantage. Well educated, coached, and highly motivated people are critical to the development and execution of strategies, especially in today's faster-paced, more perplexing world, where top management alone can no longer assure your firm's competitiveness.

Why Employee Empowerment?
People are your firm's most underutilized resource. In the new knowledge economy, independent entrepreneurship and initiative is needed throughout the ranks of your organization. Involvement in an organization is no longer a one-way street. In today's corporate environment a manager must work towards engaging organization forcefully enough to achieve its objectives. New knowledge-based enterprises are characterized by flat hierarchical structures and multi-skilled workforce. Managers assume more leadership and coaching tasks and work hard to provide employees with resources and working conditions they need to accomplish the goals they've agreed to. In brief, managers work for their staff, and not the reverse.
Empowerment is the oil that lubricates the exercise of learning. Talented and empowered human capital is becoming the prime ingredient of organizational success. A critical feature of successful teams, especially in knowledge-based enterprises, is that they are invested with a significant degree of empowerment, or decision-making authority.

Equally important, employee empowerment changes the managers' mind-set and leaves them with more time to engage in broad-based thinking, visioning, and nurturing. This intelligent and productive division of duties between visionary leaders, focusing on emerging opportunities, and empowered employees, running the business unit day to day (with oversight on the leader's part) provides for a well-managed enterprise with strong growth potential.

Bharat Bhushan

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